SHARON HELGENS is an award-winning, internationally published author. Her work has appeared in magazines throughout the United States as well as in Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
In addition to several other awards, Sharon’s stories won or placed in THE CATHOLIC PRESS ASSOCIATION awards three years in a row. One of her earlier works was a finalist in the Golden Heart Contest, sponsored by ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA.
Over the years Sharon’s writing has touched readers’ lives in many positive ways. For example, RTS BEREAVEMENT, a national organization that helps people deal with the grief of miscarriage and stillbirth, asked permission to reprint “Heart-To-Heart” for their counselors to distribute during group therapy sessions. Sharon says, “This kind of reader feedback keeps me going. It adds extra meaning to what I do and makes me feel appreciated as an author.”
In addition to writing, Sharon occasionally teaches creative writing classes and speaks at writer’s conferences throughout the Midwest. She is currently compiling a third short story collection, THE QUILTER’S HEART, A Fictional Treasury of Homemade Love.
Sharon will be visiting the Noble Pen Nov. 12th.
SHADOWS UNFOLDING; excerpt
Brian jumped down from the big, yellow bus, lost his balance and fell to his knees. The sheet of paper he carried flew from his grasp and slowly drifted down to land in the center of a big puddle. High-pitched laughter sprayed from the windows of the bus. Fighting against his tears, the boy awkwardly struggled to his feet. The bus roared away, and the giggles and taunts receded into the distance.
All during the long ride home Brian had been careful not to wrinkle his math paper, before he could show it to Mae and Jarod. Now he watched helplessly as the muddy water soaked into it, obliterating the word “Good,”scrawled across its top in bright red letters. Angry, he stomped on the paper, shoving it beneath the surface. Cold water splashed the front of his jeans and slowly seeped into his sneaker. He turned and hurried up the long drive, bordered by protective pines, the wet shoe squishing with every step of his right foot.
Usually the day’s tensions drained away the closer he got to the house, but not today. As he rounded the bend, he saw Jarod watching him from the doorway of the barn. Brian’s footsteps slowed, but Jarod came to meet him, frustrating his attempt to delay the inevitable questions.
Placing one large hand on the boy’s shoulder, Jarod said, “How did it go today?”
Brian shrugged his slight shoulders. “No.” He could feel the muscles of his neck tighten and the pulse in his left temple begin to throb.
Reining in his long-legged stride, Jarod walked beside the boy in silence, just long enough to raise false hopes. Maybe he wouldn’t ask, Brian thought.
Jarod slid his hands into his pockets. “Did you sign up for Little League today?” he asked casually.
Brian had planned on saying no in a very matter-of-fact tone, as if his answer were of no importance either way, but he found he couldn’t answer at all. Ashamed, he stared down at his feet.
Jarod’s arm pulled him into a brief hug. “Never mind, son.”
For once the word son failed to warm him. Brian would do almost anything to please Jarod, yet the one thing Jarod had asked of him, he couldn’t bring himself to do. Jarod wanted him to join a club or some other organization. He didn’t care if it was Cub Scouts, 4-H, or some kind of sport, so long as it forced Brian to mix with other people.
Mae and Jarod had adopted Brian more than a year ago. Slowly he had learned to trust someone, after a lifetime of broken promises. With them he was fine, but with anyone else he froze up. Mae and Jarod had become his entire world. He would like nothing better than to stay here on the farm with them forever. He would too, if he didn’t have to go to school.
Brian had lived in too many foster homes and been transferred to too many schools. Every school was the same. He did fairly well on his written work, but if a teacher called on him in class, his heart would pound, and he could do nothing but stutter and stammer, even if he knew the answers. The other children soon gave up trying to include him in their games and eventually ended up calling him “dummy” and making fun of his stutter.
More than anything in the world, Brian wanted to be like other children and make his new parents proud of him, especially Jarod. But he wasn’t like other children. That’s all there was to it. Probably, that was why his real father had left right after he was born, and why his real mother hadn’t liked him.
“I’d better bring the cows home,” Jarod said. “Go change your clothes, son, and meet me in the barn. I could use two more hands tonight.”
His father turned away, and the boy hurried toward the house.
Brian always hung around the barn while Jarod milked, even when he wasn’t asked to help. He liked everything about it-the way the cows warmed the barn on a cold winter morning and all the soft sounds that filled the high-raftered building. Swishing tails and munching. Breathy snorts and low-pitched moos. The hissing and humming of the milkers. Cow pies landing on the ground with a soft plop. He even liked the smell of the cow pies-sweet, like the hay. Everything about milking seemed soft and warm and intimate. And neither man nor boy felt a need to fill the quiet.
Now, as he entered the barn, Jarod greeted him with a beckoning finger. “Come see our latest arrival.” He turned and led the way to a stall in the back of the barn.
At first Brian could see nothing but layers of shadow then he heard a rustling noise, and, suddenly, the darkest shadow of all unfolded itself from the straw and backed away from them on wobbly legs. The calf was nearly all black, unusual for a purebred Holstein, with only one patch of white, around its left eye.
Brian gasped. “Oh,” he breathed. “She’s beautiful.”
“You mean he is,” Jarod corrected.
“It’s a boy calf?”
Jarod nodded. Brian leaned over the partition and ran a hand along the calf’s neck. It felt like living velvet. The animal nervously danced away.
“Can I name him?”
“No point in getting attached to him,” Jarod answered. “We won’t be keeping this one.”